For several decades, Science Studies scholars emphasising the contingency and performativity of knowledge have promoted public engagement in science (PES) to advance democratisation. However, looking at PES in practice, an analysis of project rationales and methods used in the field of participatory socio-ecological modelling points towards the persistence of different concepts of participation. Project reports reproduce a positivist understanding of science and science-society relations alongside postmodern tendencies. Literature appraising participatory processes for their democratic merits, on the other hand, tend to follow an evaluative paradigm, analysing processes ex-post with regard to criteria of procedural democracy.
My research project started out from an interest in developing a more nuanced model of the relationship between participatory modelling of human-environment systems and democratisation. Building on the notion of knowledge production as performative practice, I want to gain a more in-depth picture of what participatory research does in society, why participatory modelling might be worth pursuing, and how it relates to processes of social ordering. I have developed a praxiographic approach, studying participatory research as a process of social interaction in which ways of knowing the coupled human-environment system amount to ways of enacting it. Based on the ideas of co-production and enactment, socio-ecological modelling is not only political as a site of environmental decision-making. We can widen our understanding of what it means to engage in participatory scientific practice by inquiring into the ways in which practices of modelling and of engaging stakeholders contribute to the enactment of, for instance, the system, the world, politics, justice, humans, and human-environment relations. To trace how modelling practices, including social dynamics, power relations and epistemic processes around ‘socio-ecological systems’ feed into the making of those very systems, I have done ethnographic fieldwork in two participatory modelling projects. My data collection methods involve participant observation, ethnographic interviews, qualitative in-depth interviews, recording of speech events, and focus groups.
This research project is funded by the German Academic Scholarship Foundation (Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes).
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